The president of Ukraine has thanked Canada for a $120-million loan aimed at bolstering his country’s economy amid a hostile buildup of 100,000 Russian troops and hundreds of tanks and armoured personnel carriers along its borders.
Volodymyr Zelensky, through a statement issued late Friday by the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa, said the loan represents another example of the “special partnership” between the two countries.
The brief statement, written by Andrii Bukvych, Ukraine’s charge d’affaires to Canada, said Ukraine is grateful to Canada for working with international partners to provide financial support, making it clear Russian aggression “is absolutely unacceptable.”
“Contributing to Ukraine’s financial strength and resilience reinforces Canada’s firm political position in support of Ukraine,” Bukvych wrote.
Outside of Ukraine and Russia, Canada has the world’s largest Ukrainian population at about 1.3 million inhabitants identifying as such for the 2016 census.
Russia’s troop movements near Ukraine have prompted speculation across Europe about an imminent invasion, something Russia has denied.
The Ukrainian statement from Ottawa goes on to say Ukraine remains optimistic about receiving more support, which could include unlocking financing tools offered by Export Development Canada.
“Considering the ongoing cyberattacks against Ukraine’s infrastructure, we would also appreciate the relevant technical and experts’ assistance by Canadian agencies,” Bukvych wrote.
Earlier on Friday, the embassy issued a blunt statement with a much different tone. At that time, the embassy called on Canada to provide weapons to Ukraine’s military and to impose further sanctions on Russia.
“Facing the risk of a further Russian invasion, we need to defend our land,” the statement said. “The U.K. and the U.S. have already shipped the military equipment and we would appreciate if Canada follows suit.”
The first statement also said Canada’s support of Ukraine could be reinforced by the extension and expansion of the Canadian military training mission known as Operation UNIFIER. About 200 members of the Canadian Armed Forces have trained 32,000 Ukrainian military personnel to NATO standards, but that mission is set to expire at the end of March.
“In light of a serious threat of another wave of Russian aggression, we have been in consultations with NATO member countries, including Canada, about means to strengthen Ukraine’s defence capacities,” the first statement said. “We are confident that ongoing talks with our Canadian partners will deliver the results soon.”
That statement was Ukraine’s initial response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of the $120-million loan, which he billed as one of the “top things” Ukrainian officials had asked for during meetings earlier in the week in Kyiv with Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly.
After the meetings, Global Affairs Canada issued a statement saying Joly had reaffirmed Canada’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and condemned Russia’s military buildup. There was also a commitment to provide additional support to Ukraine, but no details were offered.
Canadians of Ukrainian descent, including Conservative MP James Bezan, expressed frustration with Joly’s position.
In Ottawa, NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said the party supported Trudeau’s announcement.
“With the escalating threats of further Russian invasion, we must stand in solidarity with Ukraine and its people,” McPherson said in a statement. “We urge the government to continue working with our allies to pressure Russia to back down before they take drastic measures.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement Saturday confirming that Joly and Blinken had discussed the latest developments in Ukraine a day earlier, including efforts to encourage Russia to choose diplomacy and de-escalation.
“Secretary Blinken stressed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and our readiness to co-ordinate to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for further aggression against Ukraine,” Ned Price said in the statement.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax
The Canadian Press